Sailing away this week on new Viking Odin, the Viking River Cruises new river cruise ship christened this week, it was hard to tell the ship was in motion. River cruise ships never get going all that fast and the waters are relatively calm compared to what might be experienced on a big ship cruise. Still, the ship did move so I could officially check “go on a river cruise” off the bucket list. Actually though, I don’t have a bucket list and if I did, river cruising would probably not have been on it. The whole idea of a barge-like river ship just seemed like it could be quite boring.
Ten minutes on Viking Odin confirmed: the wrong person on this ship could have a really bad experience.
But not much longer on board suggested a new thought: for the right traveler, one charged with a different set of priorities, a river cruise could be a perfect match.
Tastefully decorated? Yes.
Fine cuisine? Yes.
Rock-climbing wall, on board surfing, swimming, or spa treatments? No.
Many different bars, lounges and food venues? No.
River cruising is as different when compared to big ship cruising as big ship cruising is compared to land vacations.
They are all viable vacation options, the trick is knowing which one is a good fit for each traveler. This is a really good opportunity to cast a vote in favor of having a good relationship with a travel agent, one that specializes in one of the three because they are all decidedly different. Your “cruise expert”, the person you have used for big ship cruises in the past, may very well no nothing of what a river cruise is all about. I didn’t. There are agents and entire agencies that specialize in river cruising, much like there are those who specialize in big ship cruising, land vacations, all-inclusive resorts, and other options.
Short list of who should not go on a river cruise:
- Kids- there is no children’s programming.
- Gamblers- there is no casino.
- Those who like to be entertained- on a river cruise, a great deal of the “entertainment” comes from the passengers interacting with each other. If that thought scares you, stay away.
- Those who are not very outgoing or want quiet time to themselves- there is simply no place to hide on a river cruise ship
Major cruise lines have been doing a really good job lately at making efforts to differentiate themselves from one another. Not all that long ago, it seemed big ship cruising lines were all moving toward a central experience. Back then, say 5 years ago, travel agents commonly focused not so much on the cruise line but on when and where their clients wanted to go. Throw in pricing as a factor and the hunt might lead towards one line or another but the on board experience was waning.
Fast forward to today and we find major cruise lines putting intense focus on their brand; defining and redefining what they do. Now, travel agents have to pay a lot more attention in an effort to match passengers with an onboard experience that fits. Throwing river cruising in the mix is a good idea. Throwing Viking River Cruises specifically in to the mix is an even better idea for one great big huge reason: they “get” us. Not all cruise lines do.
While they all have increasingly different onboard products to offer, I feel confident recommending Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, and some other lines, because they are consistent and they understand North American cruise travelers. They provide an anticipated level of service, an acceptable quality of food, price points we will accept and more.
MSC Cruises, for example, I would have a very difficult time recommending, in part due to personal experience with the line (a cruise from hell) but moreso because they don’t seem to understand what North American cruise passengers want. Viking River Cruises, like Carnival, Princess, Celebrity and the others, understands us and, with this new generation of ships, has created an environment that allows the well-traveled or those who want to become well-traveled to immerse themselves in destinations.
Up close and personal via one of Viking’s longships, designed to take passengers to places big ships just can’t offer, is a very viable option for the right traveler, one that values the experiences ashore, the destinations they will visit.
After just one land tour with Viking, it is apparent how much focus they place on destinations by providing the technology that enables tour members to hear guides. That the guides are local with stories to tell from personal experience in the area is also a plus. Allowing time throughout the tour for wandering around, shopping or just sitting in a sidewalk cafe, sampling the local fare, is huge. A nightly briefing on the ship about what is coming up the next day is not to be missed.
Also not to be missed are onboard enrichment activities and lectures on a variety of topics.
Defining ocean cruises as “a drinking man’s cruise” and river cruises as “a thinking man’s cruise” Torstein Hagen, Chairman and CEO of Viking River Cruises hit it right. Not in a “river cruisers are superior human beings” sort of way but very much as an accurate differentiation between a river cruise and an ocean cruise.
Believe me, there were more than a few of those thinking men doing some drinking on Viking Odin.
- Viking christens thinking man’s ships at Amsterdam ceremony (chriscruises.net)
- Cruise line to christen four ships in one day (chriscruises.net)
- Getting there is half of something, we’re just not sure what (chriscruises.net)